Getting Started With the Primer
The Pickslanting Primer is our instructional overview of the universe of picking technique. It represents years of research and interviews with some of the world’s best players to understand how picking technique really works. It’s the most comprehensive instructional product of its kind, and it’s always getting better!
We’ve designed the Primer so that you can go through all the sections, in order.
Choose Your Weapon
The Pickslanting Primer now has an awesome introduction to guitar picks and how they work. If you’re new to picking technique, you can start here to learn what types of picks are commonly available, what they sound like, and how to use them. If you’re an experienced player, this may still be an entertaining look at a subject we all love. Along the way, you’re bound to learn a new thing or two as you watch our tests and comparisons of different picks, shapes, and materials — we know we did.
Getting A Grip
Now that you’ve chosen a pick, let’s learn how to hold it. As with everything in picking technique, there are a surprising number of ways to do this and almost none of them are wrong! Instead, different grips can impact the way your arm fits against the guitar, and this is an important foundation we build on when it comes to actually making picking motions work:
What makes guitar picking so challenging, and why are some players seemingly super-powered with it? This section of the Primer is our big-picture overview of fundamental concepts in picking motion. So this is where you’ll find an introduction to groundbreaking Cracking the Code concepts like escape motion and pickslanting:
We’ve tried to make this as compact and entertaining as possible. This section contains lots of great video examples from the interviews we’ve conducted, and each chapter flows to the next. So you can read it straight through like a multimedia lesson.
You’ll probably want to understand most of these concepts eventually, to follow along with our tutorials. So we’ve included all the important terms in headings on the page, or right in the page titles themselves, to to make it easy to refer back here later on.
Choosing A Picking Motion
You may have heard that there is no “right” way to use a guitar pick, and that “everyone picks differently”. But these are highly misleading and even potentially damaging statements.
There may not be a single correct way to move a guitar pick, but for each of the many correct approaches, there are definitely specific things you can do to make them work. And you’ll get much better and much faster results if you know what those things are instead of fumbling around in the dark looking for them.
Also, when it comes to certain people picking a certain way, there is good news there, too. For the picking motions we look at in the Primer currently, we are certain that everyone can learn to do them, regardless of body type, hand size, or finger length.
Which is why our best advice is to… try them all! Whichever motion works best for you right now is the best one to continue working on. Think of picking technique like a crossword puzzle. Instead of slamming your head against the wall working on one clue, filling in as many as you can will eventually help you solve them all.
Let’s start with wrist motion. The wrist is the most versatile and commonly used joint in picking technique, and everyone should give it a shot and learn how to do some wrist picking. It’s a great way to learn how your arm, grip, and picking motion interact:
Once you get through wrist, don’t stop there. Move on to forearm motion and elbow motion:
Once again, the goal here is to attempt as many of these picking motions as you can, to see which ones you can use.
Keep in mind that the motion that works best for you might not even be the one you want to use long-term. That’s okay. Your main goal is to become fluid and synchronized with any picking technique to start with.
Testing Your Motion
When you’re tying out a new picking motion, how can you tell if you’re actually doing it right? It’s a good question, because the answer isn’t obvious: by going fast! This may sound counterintuitive, since conventional wisdom usually tells us to play slowly and correctly, and to “work up to speed” over time. Walk before you can run, right?
Not exactly. Sure, when you play slowly, you might be able to get the notes right. But the picking motion itself could be totally wrong. And one thing we’ve learned from reviewing hundreds of player-submitted video clips on our forum is that when most people play slowly, they can’t tell when they are stringhopping:
If your current picking technique is the bouncy, tension-inducing motion of stringhopping, you can “work that up” all you like — it’s never getting any faster than about 130 or 140 beats per minute, sixteenth notes. Even worse, by continuing to hammer away at the highly repetitive muscle overuse of stringhopping with more hours and more “reps”, you’re just increasing arm tension and inviting injury.
Instead, we can use speed itself to avoid potentially dangerous muscle overuse. By trying to go faster than about 150 beats per minute sixteenth notes, you can quickly weed out motions that aren’t working. Efficient picking motions will easily surpass this mark, with no feeling of tension, even if you’re new to picking technique. Stringhopping motions will not. In Chapter 7 of the wrist motion section, “Starting With Speed” we walk you through the process of performing this test:
If you’ve ever worried that you don’t have “speed” genetics, and that other people are simply wired for fast playing in a way that you’re not, we have good news. Most of the time, when players report speed-limited motion and a feeling of arm tension, what we see when we review their video clips is simply stringhopping. Switching to a more efficient motion removes the speed limit, so passing the speed test is one of the most important first steps you can take.
Once you’ve found one or more picking motions that work, it’s time to try and play some actual phrases with them. This will help cement the ability you’re building in your picking motion. You’ll choose those phrases based on the type of picking motion you’re using.
For example, if upstroke escape motion is working for you, then you can choose any of the phrases in the Downward Pickslanting section to work on. We’ve included plenty of iconic ideas from the vocabularies of Yngwie Malmsteen and Eric Johnson, both of whom are upstroke escape, downward pickslanting players:
Instead, if you have better initial results with a downstroke escape technique, then head on over to the Upward Pickslanting phrases and dive in. There you’ll find selections from the vocabularies of Ardeshir Farah and John McLaughlin:
You’ll notice that both the upstroke escape style and the downstroke escape style are single escape picking styles. Single escape motions are the simplest motions used in picking technique, and the easiest to “click” with first. Learning to do these movements in a way that is fast and smooth, with good tone and pick attack, and loudness when you need it, is the best way to start your journey. Two-way pickslanting phrases, which mix different escape types, and double escape phrases which use the double escape motion, will build on those single escape skills. All of this works best after you can do at least one motion fast, fluidly, and loudly.
There’s a lot here, so don’t worry about trying to digest all of this at once. Block off a few chunks of time in your practice schedule now, and work through this material one bit at a time over the coming weeks.
Enjoy the Primer, and head to the forum with any questions that come up as you go through the material!